Chuck, “Chuck Versus The Coup d’Etat”

I didn’t write about last week’s Chuck because I didn’t feel like I had much to say. This is perhaps weird considering so many people had strong (read: angry) reactions to the episode and its desire to create all sorts of neurotic drama between the supposed-to-be-happy Chuck and Sarah pairing. I wasn’t as offended by it as those folks, but after “Chuck Versus the Coup d’Etat,” I feel their pain and I am officially frustrated by Chuck.

I understand the desire to keep the focus on Chuck and Sarah even after they’ve gotten together because for a lot of fans (probably the majority), it’s important to go there. We waited almost 50 episodes for them to give a real shot at this relationship thing and so we need to see how that plays out. It would be stupid to simply have them be absolutely happy, all the time and just move on to other plots. That’s just not what this series is built around, for better or for worse.

And the best way to keep pursuing interesting beats with them as characters, both inside the relationship and individuals is to create small blips of drama. That’s why I thought “Chuck Versus the Suitcase” was a really fun and wholly satisfying episode. It addressed a real issue between these two people as a couple, but did so without getting too caught up in the drama of it all.

However, the last two episodes have been, well, a chore to sit through when it comes to Chuck and Sarah. I get that Chuck is a neurotic, bumbling idiot a lot of the time and he’s extremely insecure about keeping Sarah around. That’s a legitimate concern, particularly for a guy like him and a girl like her. But my lord does Chuck need to seriously chill out.

In the last two episodes, he’s been at his most annoying point ever. In fact, I’ve never thought Chuck, in all his insecure pinning and stupid decisions in the name of love for Sarah, was annoying. But now, I’m growing tired of his desire to over-think and rapidly move through moments of a relationship that should so obviously be taken slow. Chuck knows Sarah better than this. Yeah, he’s been in love with her for three years, but would it kill him to stop and really savor the fact that she’s fully in love with him too?

I’m hoping that Sarah’s admission that she would indeed say yes to Chuck if he decided to propose ends his two-episode panic attack, but I’m not confident, and here’s why: It seems to me that when the scripts were being written before the season started, Fedak and Schwartz could see the writing on the wall and assumed this would be the last season of the series and that perhaps there wouldn’t even be an order for the back-nine episodes. Thus, as producers/writers fully aware of their audience and its expectations, they decided, perhaps even unintentionally so, that they would make sure this great romantic pairing would get its just-due. They had a few more arcs they wanted to tell with Chuck and Sarah and perhaps they just expedited the process a bit to fit this 13-episode structure.

Now, this is just total speculation and now that it looks like the series’ ratings aren’t much worse than anything else NBC is putting out there, chances are better the series will continue into getting that back-nine and perhaps even a season five. But if the series isn’t careful, it’s going to ruin a really great television couple by over-thinking things just like Chuck is.

Moreover, it’s now becoming more apparent that Chuck has two other major issues keeping it from being as great as it was in season two: The budget and the focus on one element of the story (the romance) over another (the spying).

In season three, the decreased budget wasn’t as obvious for a number of reasons, but most notably because the stories being told were still spy- and mythology-heavy in a way that made each mission compelling and important to Chuck’s personal development as a spy. Thus, episodes fairly light on set changes or explosions like “Chuck Versus First Class” still worked fully because the series was exploring something new, both in the spy world and in Chuck’s personal life.

But this season, all the missions exist to tell some sort of referendum on Chuck’s relationship with Sarah and the spy thread is getting lost amid a series of speeches that have alternate meanings to the romantic entanglements of the characters. That’s not a fully new development in the series’ history, but in past seasons, there was more of a balance. Here, the mythology-building with Chuck’s mom has been mostly stalled and the supposed slow-build with the Russian layers haven’t really worked either.

Because of that, the series looks and feels cheaper. Every mission involves a classy party or something goofy in the Castle and without the missions being written in any interesting ways, those set-ups seem much more obvious and repetitive. It’s frustrating.

And again, this is all because it seems like the writers are content to embrace the less controversial (in as much as Chuck can be controversial) aspects of the series: Chuck and Sarah, goofiness, less mythology, etc. Season three was particularly dark, but it worked because the characters were in a dark place. The natural response is to return to a lighter tone in S4, but the writers have gone too far, back to a more frivolous season one vibe instead of striking the right balance that came in that glorious second season.

Thus, I find myself nearly ready to give up on writing about Chuck on a regular basis. It seems satisfied with the series it is now and that’s unfortunate. I’ll still be watching every week because I love these characters, but unless something drastically changes, these write-ups will becoming more rare.

  • I’m not the only one to come to this conclusion this fall, as both Myles McNutt and Daniel Walters have expressed general discontent with the series and its inability to raise the stakes (or create stakes at all).
  • The non-Chuck and Sarah parts of the episode, I liked. Picturing Casey hiding in a wall for two weeks just makes me smile and as always, the more Awesome, the better.

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